The costs of owning and driving a car extend beyond its purchase price or lease payments, and include factors like fuel efficiency, replacement parts and repairs, and auto insurance. That's a lot to keep in mind when shopping for a new car, but a new report from the driver's education app Zutobi—which breaks down the various costs of operating a vehicle, and ranks the cheapest and most expensive cars to drive in the U.S.—can help.
The cheapest cars to operate in the U.S.
Rather than a single, comprehensive ranking, the report has separate lists for conventional gas-powered vehicles, and electric vehicles (EVs). There are also separate rankings for replacement parts, and car registration fees by state.
There are a lot of data contained in the report, but the focus here will be on the cheapest conventional vehicles to operate in the U.S., based on fuel efficiency and auto insurance costs. The top-10 from Zutobi's report are listed below. Note that two of the 10 cars specify a model year that evidently was more cost efficient than others:
Honda Fit 2018 4cyl 1.5L Automatic
Hyundai Accent 4cyl 1.6L Automatic (AV-S1)
Honda Civic 4Dr 4cyl 1.5L Automatic
Mini Cooper Convertible 3cyl 1.5L Automatic (AM-57)
Toyota Yaris 2020 4cyl 1.5L Manual 6-spd
Toyota RAV4 4cyl 2.5L Automatic (S8)
Toyota Corolla 4cyl 1.8L Automatic
Nissan Rogue 3cyl 1.5L Automatic (AV-58)
Honda CR-V AWD 4cyl 1.5L Automatic
Subaru Forester AWD 4cyl 2.5L Automatic (AV-57)
Key takeaways to consider when shopping for a new car
When Lucas Waldenback, the co-founder of Zutobi, compiled and analyzed the data from his company's recent report, several themes emerged that could come in handy the next time you're shopping for a new car:
Compact and subcompact cars tend to be the most affordable to drive
This is hardly surprising, but the data from the report supports the idea that the fuel efficiency and maintenance costs of compact and subcompact cars make them some of the cheapest cars to operate, Waldenback says.
Hatchbacks and sedans are solid mid-size options
If you need a slightly larger vehicle but still have a small budget, Waldenback suggests considering hatchbacks and sedans. While they have more room for passengers and cargo, they're still relatively compact compared to SUVs, minivans, and trucks, and tend to be more fuel efficient.
Consider the model, instead of where it was manufactured
While some people don't give much thought to where a vehicle is made, others have strong opinions on the subject—firmly believing that domestic cars are always a better value than foreign cars, or vice versa. But given that there's a mix of domestic and foreign manufacturers on the list of the cheapest cars to operate, Waldenback says that the emphasis should be on the efficiency of individual models, rather than their origin. He recommends that prospective buyers look into the specifics of each model, "considering factors such as reliability, maintenance costs, and fuel efficiency."
What about electric vehicles?
There are separate sections in the Zutobi report that rank the cheapest EV models to operate, as well as a breakdown comparing the costs of operating gas vs. electric cars. For even more information, check out the hidden costs of EVs and why it might makes sense to hold off on buying a used EV—at least for now.